I recently started meeting weekly with my cousin who just became born again. We discuss a lot of things, but one thing that came up, was how the Old Testament seems dramatically different then the New Testament. I told her that she must read the Old Testament in light of what Jesus did for us in the New Testament. To her, that made perfect sense in putting all the pieces together. However, this is not a New Testament principal. The Law, was always intended to be understood, in view of the promised Messiah.
At this point in Romans, Paul is making a major shift in thinking. His statement is radical for the Jew, and for many Christians today. The righteousness of God has been revealed independently and altogether apart from the Law. For the Jew who has followed rules, regulations and the Law their entire life, this would be a hard pill to swallow.
The Jews had always hoped to obtain righteousness with God through the Law, but Paul says that this right standing is altogether independent of the Law. This might seem like a new doctrine, but Paul claims that it is what the Law and the Prophets testified about all along.
Mercy and grace was present in the Old Testament, through sacrifices prescribe by the Law. Because of this, it would have been easy to interpret that forgiveness and grace came about by fulfilling as much of the Law as they could. Paul is saying that this wasn't the Law's intent, the intent was to show the pattern of the One to come. Colossians 2:17 says, that "These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." So the righteousness of the Law was a type or representation of what was coming. And grace and righteousness came through Christ Jesus independent of the Law.
In the previous verses Paul utterly destroyed any hope of obtaining that right standing with God through adherence to the Law. Our only hope rested upon a Savior. Today we understand that the Law actually foretold of the righteousness given to us by Christ and hope that God promised to us by sending the Messiah. This righteousness was independent of the Law and it put us in right standing with God. Today, take a moment to thank God and Jesus for this righteousness that was made available for us apart from works of the Law.